The story was about the NBA losing revenue. It cited such mitigating factors as a global pandemic that convinced the league to form a protective bubble without fans, its truncated schedule and a political schism with the Chinese government. All valid reasons.
The accompanying picture, however, amounted to a cheap shot at the NBA.
For beneath the headline noting that NBA revenue fell $1.5 billion short of projection was a photo of the Milwaukee Bucks kneeling at courtside, behind these words: “Black Lives Matter.”
The immediate impression is, of course, that the NBA’s lost billions are attributed to a peaceful form of protesting inhumanity.
Except the story, citing AP sources and posted on the Reuters news service Twitter page, which has 22.5 million followers, makes no mention of social justice being a factor. Not one word.
What the story did point out was that the NBA’s Florida bubble, which succeeded beyond reasonable expectations, cost an estimated $200 million. That fans were not allowed. That 171 regular-season games were lost, with some teams playing as few as 64 of the usual 82 games. And that China, objecting to a preseason tweet by then-Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, responded by not televising games of a league that is wildly popular in that country.
What the story did not say, but could be presumed, is that every major sports enterprise in the world took a financial hit from COVID-19. The United States was slapped particularly hard because the reaction of national leadership ranged from tepid to denial – even after the NCAA Tournament, the biggest cash cow in college sports, was canceled, along with all spring sports.
Revenue loss is unavoidable when tickets can’t be sold. It’s bound to happen when schedules are shortened, as happened in Major League Baseball, the NHL and the NBA. When games are postponed or canceled – every MLB team lost at least 102 regular-season games – it can’t help but shrink the wallets of every league.
There’s no way to avoid massive financial impact when the schedules we’ve taken for granted and the lives we’ve become accustomed to living are taken away for the better part of a year – with not even the most respected scientists knowing when it will return.
So, yes, billions were lost – just as billions would not have counted because many of those who would have bought tickets could not due to losing their source of income.
The story was not so comprehensive as to point out all these factors. It stayed with the basics. The facts, as ascertained. Yet there is this photo of men, mostly Black, peacefully protesting before the words Black Lives Matter painted on the court.
The obvious implication, in this context, is that the league is less popular because of its activism. And, by extension, that fans around the world are tuning out the NBA because its players – most of whom are Black – coaches, referees and executives are expressing support for equal rights.
Yes, there was kneeling. There were BLM statements. There were accessories – among them jerseys and T-shirts in the NBA, T-shirts in MLB, helmets in the NFL – with slogans designed to promote social justice. There were visible BLM logos. Every major sport exhibited some form of support.
It’s silly, though, to even hint that as this is the reason why revenue and TV ratings are down, especially when they are down across the board.
And while devoted members of the stick-to-sports crowd – some work in media, including sports media – no doubt rejoice at any morsel of evidence suggesting sports figures are better off keeping their heads down, their mouths and their thoughts to themselves, let’s not forget that millions are taking the oppositive view.
We’ve come to accept that one misapplied image, when spread across our various forms of social media, can mislead millions. Such a picture was released over the weekend, and given its misapplication, could it have had any purpose other than to water the seeds of racism the NBA tries so hard to fight?
Misleading headlines might be effective as clickbait, but it is in direct opposition to quality journalism. Rather than enlighten, it tends to feed an agenda.
This was another instance of the NBA being victimized by an inaccurate portrayal. I hope commissioner Adam Silver leaps to the defense of the league.
He’ll have an army of individuals and a list of facts at his back.